The feelings might not be as heated, the dislike not as intense, but there hasn’t been a total thaw in the rivalry between the Canadian and U.S. women’s national soccer teams.
Time and familiarity has dialled down the animosity that once prevailed between the two teams. But that doesn’t mean all will be forgiven when Canada hosts the U.S. Thursday night before a sold out crowd at BC Place Stadium in the first leg of a two-match international friendly series.
Canadian captain Christine Sinclair said playing for the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League has softened her attitude. She is teammates with some of the U.S. women and faces others on a regular basis.
“I’ve been asked so many times this week about the rivalry between the two countries,” Sinclair said during a news conference in advance of the match. “For me personally it has taken a little bit of a different path.
“Player for player things have changed. I’m friends with a bunch of them. Half of our national team plays in the NWSL with their players. It’s changed in that sense.”
Seeing the Canadian flags in the stands and hearing the national anthem does rekindle old fires.
“Once you put on the national team jersey, you’re playing for Canada against the U.S.,” said Sinclair. “All those friendships are forgotten for 90 minutes.”
Some of the U.S. players the Canadians love to hate won’t be on the pitch Thursday. Abby Wambach has retired. Hope Solo isn’t part of this team.
That doesn’t mean old grudges are forgotten.
“The rivalry is still there,” said defender Becky Sauerbrunn, the U.S. co-captain. “Yes, we have a lot of new faces on both sides, but I think because of the history, that always stays within a team. It’s always in the team’s DNA.”
One of the most famous games between the two teams was the 2012 Olympic semifinal in London, which the U.S. won in extra time despite a Sinclair hat trick. That match helped convinced young women on both sides of the border to take up the sport.
“A lot of the young ones (playing Thursday) watched games like the 2012 semifinal,” said Sauerbrunn. “They saw how heated that game was.”
One reason the Canadians want to win so badly is because the Americans are very good — and have beaten Canada a lot.
In 56 matches against the U.S., Canada has a record of three wins, 47 losses and six draws. Canada’s last win over the U.S. was March 11, 20001, at the Algarve Cup in Portugal.
“I’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of results against the U.S.,” said Sinclair, who grew up in nearby Burnaby, B.C. “I would love to be able to change that, especially here in Vancouver.”
The U.S. women are ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. Canada is ranked No. 5.
The U.S. women have won three Women’s World Cup titles, four Olympic women’s gold medals, seven CONCACAF Gold Cup wins, and ten Algarve Cups.
The Canadian women have been bronze medallists at back-to-back Olympics Games.
In the nine matches since John Herdman became the Canadian head coach he has a record of 0-7-2 against the U.S. Herdman channelled his inner Rocky Balboa when talking about playing the Americans.
“In the past it’s been like a Rocky movie, but unfortunately Rocky never wins,” he said. “They are a hell of battle but there is never a happy ending for Canada.”
U.S. head coach Jill Ellis understands the past between the two teams, but her focus is rebuilding after the U.S was upset by Sweden in the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics.
“Everything the past five or six days for us has been about our focus on ourselves,” said Ellis. “Playing such a great opponent gives us an opportunity to learn more about ourselves.
“These are historically very competitive, very passionate games. For us in terms of where our team is, everything right now is about the future.”
The second leg of the series will be played Nov. 12 in San Jose, Calif.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press